LEWISTON — Some longtime residents Tuesday were eager to sign a petition to change the date of local elections from November to June, largely to reduce the number of Bates College students voting in local races.

“I don’t want college kids telling me what they’re going to do with my city,” senior Bert Boucher said as he signed. “I don’t believe in that. They don’t even live here.”

Petition drive organizer Luke Jensen, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor last month, said the goals of changing when City Council and mayoral elections are held are to reduce Bates students’ influence and increase voter turnout by holding elections in warmer weather.

Bates graduations are held in May, and by June, most students have left the campus.

In the Nov. 3 election, Ben Chin received the most votes followed by Robert Macdonald in second, prompting Tuesday’s runoff election. Conservative Macdonald won in Wards 2, 4, 6 and 7, while liberal Chin, a Bates College graduate, won in Ward 5 and had his biggest support in Wards 1 and 3. Bates students primarily live in Wards 1 and 3.

Jensen said Bates students swung the mayor’s race and at least one City Council race.

To bring the proposed change to referendum, Jensen and other supporters need 2,736 signatures by March 16. It would be up to the City Council to decide when the referendum would be held.

On Tuesday, Jensen stood at a table outside the polls at Longley Elementary School seeking signatures. Residents often came up asking to sign.

“We’re just starting today,” Jensen said. “It’s been phenomenal. People have come to me directly looking for the petition,” he said.

“We don’t get to vote on who’s president of Bates College,” one man signing the petition said. “Why should they get to vote for us? They don’t pay a dime in taxes.”

Renee Fortin also signed. “It’s a great idea,” she said. June is a good time to vote. “People get cold in the winter.” Local issues should be decided by local taxpayers, she added.

Other residents did not sign, saying they’re opposed to changing the date and excluding Bates students.

“I did not sign the petition,” Jay Calnan said. “I do not think the date of the election should be changed.” If the question goes to referendum, “I would not support voting for it in any way, shape or manner. I don’t think they should be excluded,” he said.

Neither did Bates students Jessica Wilson and Molly Chisholm, who voted Tuesday.

“Bates students are living in Lewiston for nine months of the year,” Wilson said. “That more than qualifies a person to have the right to vote in that city.” The petition drive is problematic, she said, “considering that most of the Bates population is not at Bates during June.”

Moving elections to June “would purposely lose Bates students” from voting, Chisholm said. “The school has been in Lewiston for more than a century and will continue to be here for a long time,” she said. “It’s part of the community.”

Erika Welch and her daughter Angelique Welch listened to Jensen explain the petition. Erika shook her head and declined to sign.

“Elections have always been in November since I can remember,” she said, adding she just turned 45 and has always voted. “I like the November voting. I’m against changing it.” Bates students “should not be excluded,” she said.

Armand and Gertrude Huard said they support changing local elections to June.

“The weather’s bad. A lot of people can’t get out,” he said. As for Bates students voting in local races, “it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “They’re here for a while, then they’re gone.”

Alison Beyea of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said her group would monitor the petition effort. She said the ACLU is concerned “any time cities make changes that make it harder for people to vote.”

Besides Jensen, other members of the petition committee are Patti Gagne, Richard Bruce, and Brian and Jennifer Wood.

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pullquotes:

“I don’t want college kids telling me what they’re going to do with my city. I don’t believe in that. They don’t even live here.” — Lewiston resident Bert Boucher

“I would not support voting for it in any way, shape or manner. I don’t think they should be excluded.” — Lewiston resident Jay Calnan


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